Wells Fargo Must Pay $203M To Customers After Supreme Court Rejection

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

Nearly six years after a federal court ordered Wells Fargo to pay $203 million in refunds to customers victimized by the bank’s overdraft policies — and after years of bouncing back and forth through the appeals process — the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to let that judgment stand.

The original case involves the policy known as “stacking” bank transactions, in which a bank processes a customer’s larger transactions before the smaller ones. This increases the likelihood of the customer overdrafting and enriches the bank, which can reap multiple overdraft penalties for each of the smaller transactions.

The plaintiffs alleged that Wells Fargo’s policy violated a California consumer protection law. In 2010, the judge in the case ordered the bank to pay the $203 million to customers of Wells Fargo who were affected by the overdraft policy between Nov. 2004 and June 2008.

In 2012, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set aside that mountain of cash, saying California law can not override federal banking laws. However, the court did uphold the lower court’s decision that Wells Fargo had used “misleading propaganda” to deceive customers into believing their transactions were being processed in the order in which they were made.

A year later, the original District Court judge once again ordered the bank to fork over the $203 million. In Oct. 2014, the Ninth Circuit opted to not hear the bank’s appeal.

At issue in the appeal to the Supreme Court was whether or not previous courts were right to certify the class action even though the class included individuals who were not harmed by the company’s conduct — in this case Wells Fargo allegedly making misleading statements to checking account customers about how their transactions would be posted and the likelihood that an overdraft would result.

Wells Fargo argued in a recently filed brief [PDF] that the plaintiffs never “presented individual or classwide evidence establishing that, as a result of the misrepresentations, absent class members incurred overdraft fees that they otherwise would have avoided.”

Instead, the company claimed that the exact opposite was true, that most cardholders would have incurred the same fees even if they hadn’t read or relied upon the bank’s written policies.